Sleeping with cats : a memoir /
Marge Piercy.
1st Perennial ed.
New York : Perennial, 2003, c2002.
xii, 345 : ill. ; 21 cm.
0060936045 (pbk.) :
More Details
New York : Perennial, 2003, c2002.
0060936045 (pbk.) :
catalogue key
A Look Inside
About the Author
Author Affiliation
Marge Piercy is the author of fifteen novels, including Gone to Soldiers, The Longings of Women, and Woman on the Edge of Time, as well as fifteen books of poetry, including The Art of Blessing the Day, The Moon Is Always Female, and Circle on the Water. She lives on Cape Cod with her husband, Ira Wood, the novelist and publisher of Leapfrog Press
First Chapter

Chapter One

A Family of Seven

Do I have faith in my memory? Who doesn't? How can I not trust memory. It is as if I were to develop a mistrust for my right hand or my left foot. Yet I am quite aware that my memory is far from perfect. I frequently forget events and people that my husband, Ira Wood, remembers, and similarly, I remember incidents that have slipped away from him. I rarely remember things incorrectly; mostly I remember clearly or I forget completely.

I have distinct memories of events that happened before I was born or for which I was not present. This comes from having heard the stories told vividly by my mother or my grandmother when I was little and imagining those scenes and the people in them so clearly and intensely that I experience them as my own. I have precise memories of the voice and face of my mother's father, who died ten years before I was born. Stories about him that I heard as a child were so real to me that I created him as a living personage.

I have trouble remembering periods of intense pain. The summer my second marriage was disintegrating around me was a time I so hated every moment that it has almost vanished into the limbo of repressed pain. Sometimes a sound or a smell or a voice will break that seal of willful forgetfulness and out will slither those poisonous days and nights.

Once that has happened with events, I will not again forget. They are filed in a different part of my memory and can be summoned, or will drift up unbidden to torment me. But they are no longer vanquished, vanished.

I am convinced that all those people I write about would remember events and patterns of events quite differently than I do. After all, memory changes. Our pasts constantly change. When a friend betrays us or turns against us, the past is rewritten to prefigure that betrayal, that loss of intimacy and faith. When a love affair ends, we read the causes backward into the quarrels, even the minor disagreements. Those months of the inexplicable allergic sniffles of a friend suddenly become clues once we learn of their cocaine addiction. Someone we had scarcely known becomes an important figure in our lives, and in retrospect, every small meeting or passage together is invested with significance. Remembering is like one of those old-fashioned black-and-white-tile floors: wherever I stand or sit, the tiles converge upon me. So our pasts always seem to lead us directly to our present choices. We turn and make a pattern of the chaos of our lives so that we belong exactly where we are. Everything is a prefiguring of our current loves and antipathies, work and faith. We compose a future that leads from where we believe we are at the moment. When the present changes, past and future change significantly with it.

This is, after all, my perspective on my life, not anyone else's. It is neither true nor false in a large sense, because my truth of events is not the same as that of the others who lived them with me. To create a faithful autobiography would require as many years in the telling as the living of it, with transcriptions of every casual meandering conversation about what kind of soup to have for lunch, the weather, a movie seen last week. It would be filled with dirty bathrooms and clean laundry, bills paid and unpaid, overdue library books, hems to mend, We spend more time doing dishes than we do making love, but which figures prominently in the story of our lives? We choose, therefore, only certain events, certain people, certain points of crisis and joy. It is an extremely stylized map, with most of the byways omitted, even the most interesting and lovely and dangerous byways, because we are always hastening to arrive where we now think it is important and inevitable that we live.

I try to make myself look good, but I am aware that sometimes my honesty and my attachment to what happened prevent me from presenting myself as the blameless heroine. I usually try to do the best I can from day to day, but my best is often flawed and skewed, and sometimes I try to inflict harm. I aim to be good, but sometimes I am best at being at least mildly wicked. I frequently misjudge situations and people and blunder in where I should avoid. I talk myself into relationships that are good for no one, and certainly not for me. Or if good for me, bad for the other person. As I look at my life, I like the work I have done, but I often dislike how I have behaved with other people. I have intended to be a better friend and lover than I have turned out to be.

I think for the most part as time has gone on, I have become a better person in my most intimate relationships and in my relationships with the natural world and with my cats. I do not think I am any more effective politically than I was thirty years ago -- probably less so. I assume leadership more warily. I am a better writer, but I stand behind the earlier novels and poetry. My life has been full of blunders, misprisions, accidents, losses, so no wonder I forget. If I did not forget much, how could I possibly continue? At the end, I will forget everything.

Why a memoir now? Well, I am about to turn sixty-five. In common with a lot of baby boomers -- the generation after mine but the one I often identify with -- I am still surprised that I have aged. I got to have two adolescences, one at the normal time, and a second one in Students for a Democratic Society during the 1960s. I...


Excerpted from Sleeping with Cats by Marge Piercy. Copyright © 2001 by Marge Piercy. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

Full Text Reviews
Appeared in Publishers Weekly on 2001-12-10:
Born in the mid-1930s in a tough Detroit neighborhood, poet and novelist Piercy (Dance the Eagle to Sleep) fought grueling battles in her youth, involving difficult relationships with her parents, participation in a street gang and more. When she became pregnant at 17, her mother left her alone to perform an abortion on herself she almost bled to death and her hostile father once broke her fingers in the car door when she was late for a shopping trip. Piercy notes that her memoir's focus is her emotional life, but that understates the book's rich picture of her literary and political life. That life embraces 15 novels and just as many books of poetry, three marriages (one a 15-year open relationship in a communal household), sojourns in Chicago, San Francisco, Brooklyn and Paris, and a deep engagement in the political movements of the 1960s through the '80s. She peppers these events with charming vignettes of the many cats she's befriended during her life. Piercy is as convincing writing about her rough beginnings as she is describing her present status as the "cat lady" of her tiny Cape Cod town. "Remembering," she writes, "is like one of those old-fashioned black-and-white-tile floors: wherever I stand or sit, the tiles converge upon me. So our pasts always seem to lead us directly to our present choices. We turn and make a pattern of the chaos of our lives so that we belong exactly where we are." B&w photos. (Jan.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Appeared in Library Journal on 2002-01-01:
Piercy, the prolific author of more than 30 books of poetry, novels, essays, a play, and So You Want To Write: Mastering the Craft of Fiction and Personal Narrative (with Ira Wood, her third husband), writes an about-to-turn 65 memoir that, as she says, "focuses on my emotional life, not on my literary or political adventures, or most of my friendships." Her personal assessment is neither self-congratulatory nor self-denigrating: "I have become a better person in my most intimate relationships and in my relationships with the natural world and with my cats." But she finds herself less effective politically and also comments that "my life has been full of blunders, misprisions, accidents, losses, so no wonder I forget. If I did not forget much, how could I possibly continue?" Her narrative is indeed a penetrating analysis of emotional and personal difficulties and of some successes, and she articulates many of her most poignant moments not only in prose but also in verse. Recommended for a wide variety of general readers in public libraries. Carolyn M. Craft, Longwood Coll., Farmville, VA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Review Quotes
"Marge Piercy is one of our boldest and most prolific writers."
'œThe personal and the political recollected with honesty and passion.'
"The personal and the political recollected with honesty and passion."
'œMarge Piercy is one of our boldest and most prolific writers.'
'œAn enriching pleasure . . . a lovingly written memoir by a woman in touch with what matters.'
"An enriching pleasure . . . a lovingly written memoir by a woman in touch with what matters."
'œMarge Piercy holds up a mirror to modern life.'
"Marge Piercy holds up a mirror to modern life."
To find out how to look for other reviews, please see our guides to finding book reviews in the Sciences or Social Sciences and Humanities.
Main Description
Marge Piercy, a writer who is highly praised as both a poet and a novelist, turns her gaze inward as she shares her thoughts on life and explores her development as a woman and writer. She pays tribute to the one loving constant that has offered her comfort and meaning even as the faces and events in her life have changed -- her beloved cats. With searing honesty, Piercy tells of her strained childhood growing up in a religiously split, working-class family in Detroit. She examines her myriad friendships and relationships, including two painful early marriages, and reveals their effects on her creativity and career. More than a reminiscence of things past, however, Sleeping With Cats is also a celebration of the present and the future, as Piercy shares her views on aging, creativity, and finding a lasting and improbable love with a man fourteen years younger than herself. A chronicle of the turbulent and exciting journey of one artist's life, Sleeping With Cats is a deeply intimate, unforgettable story.
Table of Contents
List of Poemsp. xi
A Family of Sevenp. 1
In the Beginningp. 13
A Life in Wordtight Compartmentsp. 40
Brutus the Greatp. 62
Interlude in the Present: The February Lessonp. 81
My Life as a 1950s Coedp. 88
One Does Not Do Thatp. 103
Bottoming Outp. 123
Flirtation in San Franciscop. 137
Interlude: Photographsp. 151
A Light Apartment in Brooklinep. 156
Hello Cho-Chop. 172
Manhattan Transferp. 188
Open to the Cape Windsp. 210
The Land That Owns Mep. 233
Interlude on Sleep and Gardening with Catsp. 245
Some Things Wear Out and Some Things Don'tp. 251
Death and Disintegrationp. 271
Interlude: Old Catsp. 287
La Vita Nuovap. 291
All Rivers Wind at Last to the Seap. 299
Digging in for the Long Haulp. 313
The Way Things Stand (and Sit and Lie)p. 327
Oboep. 341
Table of Contents provided by Syndetics. All Rights Reserved.

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